I don’t remember the title, but when I was in 5th grade, I tried to read a book about pioneers moving into space who were only allowed to take one book with them on the journey. The youngest child was the only person on board the craft who wouldn’t share her book. Although I never finished this book, I believe she carried a blank journal. I couldn’t finish it because as soon as the narrative said passengers were only allowed one book, I started trying to figure out what I would take.
I loved to play old west pioneer, my bed loaded up like a wagon, stuffed animals walking along side, and me, driving the wagon train (the dog if I could get him to sit still), perched on top of the end of my bed. My bed was sturdy and swooped delightfully at either end, making a perfect perch for a rugged trailblazer, a pony, and a place to sit with my torso out the window, legs wrapped around the iron bedstead, enjoying the sun. At the foot of the bed, one of the bars popped out, giving me enough room for a secret escape hatch. Upon reading the first few chapters of my mystery book, I draped a sheet over the far end of the bed, stashed my pennies and peppermint candies under the mattress, grabbed a soda, and set to work deciding which book I would bring with me.
That’s where the fantasy broke down. I was never able to figure out what book to bring. Who could? What a catastrophe! The world is no longer tenable and humans must dive into stardust to save themselves, but what to bring? What would you bring? I changed the rules a bit for comfort and decided I could bring the books that could fit inside of a shoe box, but that didn’t leave room for my illustrated guide to Egyptian mummification, which might, in fact, prove handy. Nor did it leave room for the gazillian American Diary books that I gulped down regularly and mimicked for my second ever book (the first was a retelling of Hop on Pop in which Pop becomes irate and stomps around the house saying, “Hop on Pop, Eh!” The ill fated book blew out the window of the car, where I was holding it to show it off to the love of my life, who lived about 4 miles down a dirt road we passed). The second book I ever wrote was the diary of a girl who looked just like me and who couldn’t clean her room because her closet was made for hiding secrets and also occasionally for acting as an elevator to above the clouds and, therefore, couldn’t hold clothes. In the book, as in real life, her mother takes the doors off of the closet, convincing her that she will be able to use them as book shelves and will be more likely to hang her clothes up if the closet isn’t an awesome place to read with a flashlight and pretend its the end of the world. Only in the book, it is the end of the world and the girl is left to hide in less comfortable places, like in the garage.
Neither could I bring along Tolkien, Grimms, the fables, any of the retellings of Cinderella, or the awesome Blossom Culp books. The situation grew dangerous and I’m ashamed to say I had a panic attack. Not my first, not my last, not even my last over books, but an imagination-fueled book-induced panic. Yikes! I was such a nerd. I never finished that book, and obviously didn’t even remember what it was called, all because it made me think unpleasant thoughts about my books.
I tell you this ridiculous story to tell you another ridiculous story. I’ve been trying to be really organized with no success in my new house. I tried very hard to keep the books confined to the space I called my office, but that didn’t work for me. I felt confined, and soon the books I was reading, the stacks I was bringing home from my office in preparation for our big move, and the books I was buying by the sack-full at thrift shops started to pile up everywhere. I decided that what was missing was a dedicated space for the excitement of unread books. I love the thrill of picking up a new book. It’s electric. Inside of an unread book are ideas I haven’t thought of, things I can connect with, stories that will make me question and subsequently understand humanity in all new ways. Books are wonderful.
I already had a system for books I’ve read. I have an impossibly hard time giving up books. In my closet are two boxes of books designated for potential future children, who, I hope, will love books as ardently as I do. These are the books I read in childhood that I adored. My youthful pantheon: L’engle, historical romances, Harry Potter, Richard Peck, and Dr. Seuss. Then there’s the space for books I plan to give away. Getting rid of a book feels better if it goes to someone who will love it. There’s a stack for each member of my family, close friends, and a stack for students. Then, next to that, is the shelf dedicated to the books of my trade. Literary theory and volumes of classics. Finally, my favorite shelf, my new pantheon, populated by Sedaris, Cisneros, Adams, Alexie, Parker, O. Henry, Kerouac, Chinaski, Boland, Cummings, Thurber, Chelsea Handler, Samantha Bee, Jenny Lawson, and placed there just Saturday, Caitlin Moran. These are the books that changed my life, made me better understand my purpose and place in this big scary world.
And now, thanks to a bit of work this weekend, my bedroom is home to the stacks and stacks of haven’t-read-yets. The bedroom seemed the perfect place to stash unread dreams, and I fell asleep last night looking at the shape of it in the dark. I have book love, and while you might call it obsessive, at least I know where I belong: in the midst of a stack of books. Hallelujah.
And now, I’m waiting for class to start. Before I started teaching, I really didn’t get reluctant readers. What’s there to be reluctant about? You open a book, you smell the pages as they flicker under your nose, and you dive in. You get angry when people interrupt you because it’s like being woken from a dream. That’s book love. So how does that translate to people who don’t like to read? I’m not sure yet, but I’m trying. I read Penny Kittle’s Book Love at the behest of my boss, and I think there are some really interesting ideas. Reading has to be authentic, meaningful. It has to be something that the reader can connect with, own. My own attempts to inspire reading are based in my desire to see students as people, readers and writers who are working with me, the so-called expert, to improve their work. That’s helped some, but not completely.
This whole blog comes down to this: I want to be a great teacher who inspires her readers and writers to love the process, but I’m not sure how. If you are a reader or a writer, will you share with me how you came to call yourself that? Come on, help a teacher out.